The legendary radio broadcaster, Carl Kasell died Tuesday owing to complications of Alzheimer’s disease, NPR reports. Kasell was 84.
“Every weekday for more than three decades, his baritone steadied our mornings. Even in moments of chaos and crisis, Carl Kasell brought unflappable authority to the news. But behind that hid a lively sense of humor, revealed to listeners late in his career, when he became the beloved judge and official scorekeeper for Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! NPR’s news quiz show,” NPR reported on the loss of one of its most beloved newscasters.
There’s a lot to now about Kasell, but let’s start with how much he was loved.
1.Brokenhearted Fans Took to Social Media Immediately to Pay Homage to the Cherished Broadcaster
For context, besides being a decades-long radio news journalist, Kasell was the voice, judge and prize on the popular NPR news quiz show ‘Wait, Wait …Don’t Tell Me!’ Lucky contestants that answered two out of three news of the week limericks correctly won Kasell’s voice on their voicemail.
Kasell recorded more than 2,000 outgoing messages on winners answering machines and voicemail.
Faith Salie, a frequent quest on the Saturday morning quiz show and author of ‘Approval Junkie,’ CBS Sunday Morning commentator and host of the monthly KQED show ‘Science Goes to the Movies,’ tweeted several times about Kasell and shared that he was an “impeccably kind …gentle man.”
She wrote that Kasell “assured me I’d find love again as he told me about falling in love in Verona as a young soldier & and finding second love with his dear wife Mary Ann. He was correct. Always.”
‘Wait, Wait …’ host Peter Sagal was quoted by NPR as saying, “The greatest thing about Carl was anything we came up with, he was game. When we were in Las Vegas, we had him come onstage in a showgirl’s headdress. No matter what we asked him to do — silly voices, or weird stunts; we had him jump out of a cake once to make his entrance onstage — he did it [with] such joy and such dignity.”
Kasell’s last ‘Wait, Wait …’ appearance was in 2014.
2. Kasell Anchored the First Newscast of ‘Morning Edition’ for NPR in 1979
Morning Edition on NPR begins at 5 a.m. The most listened-to radio news program in the nation. The show debuted with Kasell as host on November 5, 1979. The news program, now hosted by Rachel Martin, David Greene, Noel King and Steve Inskeep, earned “broadcasting’s highest honors, including the George Foster Peabody Award and the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award.”
And it was Kasell whose voice was the voice of the broadcast for three decades. NPR described Kasell this way: “…for many listeners, the voice coming through the radio at first light.”
In a 2009 story, and after 30 years hosting the broadcast, Kasell stepped away to do other work at NPR including ‘Wait, Wait …’ He told journalist Renee Montagne, “I look out the window in the morning sometimes, and the sun is rising, and the people are going to work. I look at Washington as being that big, sleeping giant, just stretching and waking up, and going about its business. And to know that I’m working in the capital of the most powerful nation in the world — I feel good about that.”
Kasell told Montagne he wasn’t retiring but his alarm clock was.
“Actually, I hear the word ‘retirement’ a lot concerning my situation and the only thing I’m retiring is my alarm clock. No more will I hear that clock go off at 1 in the morning — or 5 after 1, as I like to say, because I like to sleep in. But I will be at NPR full time. I will be working as a roving ambassador for the network. And I will also keep my job on Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”
And there, he found a different sort of home where he could be funny and where he was universally adored.
3. Kasell, Born in the Tar Heel State, Started Out a Thespian Before he Went Into Radio & Had a Famous Mentor
Kasell studied drama at Goldsboro High School where he had as his teacher and mentor, Andy Griffith.
Griffith, who had graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in music and spent a few years teaching music and theater arts to high school kids, encouraged Kasell to pursue an acting career. But Kasell chose radio and began working on his radio voice and landed a job as a DJ at 16.
After graduating from high school, Kasell attended the UNC and, with friend and later celebrated journalist and broadcast legend Charles Kuralt, launched a local radio station WUNC. After serving in the military, Kasell was a disc jockey but soon headed to news.
And it was as news director of an AM station in Arlington that Kasell would hire a student intern.
4. Kasell Hired a UVA Summer Intern Many Years Ago You May Know
Kasell, as news director at WAVA in Arlington, hired a student intern for a summer named Katie Couric.
Couric appeared on ‘Wait, Wait …Don’t Tell Me.’
“Katie Couric has done it all in broadcast journalism — she’s hosted the Today Show and her own daytime talk show, she’s anchored CBS Evening News, and has been a correspondent for 60 Minutes. For Couric, it all started at a local radio station where she was hired as an intern by our very own Judge and Scorekeeper Emeritus Carl Kasell. Couric was, unsurprisingly, a very good intern, so we’ve invited her to answer three questions about very bad interns.”
In 1975, Kasell took a post as an NPR news announcer for ‘Weekend All Things Considered.’ And the rest is history.
“I kind of left the records behind,” Kasell told NPR. “It came at a time when so much was happening; we had the Vietnam War, the demonstrations downtown in Washington, the [Martin Luther King] and Bobby Kennedy assassinations. And so it was a great learning period even though [there were] bad times in there.”
5. Honored, Revered Even, by Media Colleagues, Kasell Was Esteemed For His Kindness, Wit & Dedication
The Washington Post featured a video obituary and tribute to Kasell on YouTube.
But it’s Sagal’s posts that are heart-wrenching.
Kasell may be gone, but his voice lives on …answering machines.